Animal Lovers Step Up to Help Florida Dogs and Cats Burned Out of Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary

Thanks to Lauren D. for barking in this article from 14 cats killed in shelter fire By ANA X. CERON Palm Beach Post Staff...



Thanks to Lauren D. for barking in this article from

14 cats killed in shelter fire
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, March 15, 2008

JUPITER They started flocking to the shelter before sunrise Friday, and the steady stream of concerned animal lovers continued all day.

Within hours of an overnight blaze at the Safe Harbor Animal Sanctuary that killed 14 cats and shuttered its hospital, at least $55,000 in donations had been collected and about 40 dogs in the no-kill shelter had been placed in foster care.

Lori Welton of Boynton Beach donated dog chow and cleaning supplies. She has four dogs, she said, so when she heard about the fire, she was compelled to stop by the shelter after work.

“It’s just heartbreaking,” Welton said. “The animals are helpless.”

The dogs were kept in a shelter adjacent to Safe Harbor’s animal hospital, which was damaged after the fire started in its lobby. The shelter shut down, too, because of smoke damage.

Safe Harbor staffers were rushing to open a temporary hospital by Monday.

Jupiter police and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue are looking into what sparked the flames. Firefighters plan to tear through a wall to determine whether the cause was electrical, spokesman Capt. Don DeLucia said. “That’s just one of the possibilities,” he said.

Also, detectives want to view a security video to help determine whether someone might have caused the fire, police spokesman Sgt. Scott Pascarella said.

At about 3:20 a.m., a panic alarm went off at the hospital, at 185 E. Indiantown Road. When police arrived, they found the clinic secure but dogs trapped inside the burning building.

Officers used their batons to break through the glass storefront. The noise apparently frightened the dogs, because they ran toward the back of the hospital. To save them, officers chased the dogs through a thick blanket of smoke, Pascarella said.

After more emergency crews arrived, firefighters and officers formed a human chain to ferry out the animals. Police said 38 dogs and cats were spared, but 14 cats died from smoke inhalation.

When Safe Harbor founder Kay-Lynette Roca arrived, she found emergency vehicles and cages taking over the Seagrape Square parking lot. “It was a horrifying but amazing thing to see,” Roca said.

“It’s the worst feeling, that they (the animals) had fear,” said Roca’s daughter Taylor, hospital and adoption manager. “These are animals that we care for every day and nursed back to health.”

Safe Harbor is perhaps best known for its well-established no-kill shelter. Its mission is to help abandoned, neglected and abused animals. The organization had 61 dogs and 200 cats in its care, Kay-Lynette Roca said.

Police think cats loose in the building – likely the hospital’s “house cats” – set off the panic alarm, Pascarella said.

Roca and the staff will work through the weekend to reopen the hospital at a new location a few doors from its current spot, said Cory Rubal, president of Safe Harbor’s board of directors.

It’s an important first step for getting Safe Harbor back on track. The hospital is the organization’s main source of income, bringing in $5,000 to $6,000 a day, Roca said.

Despite the tragedy, Roca said she’s grateful for the heroic efforts by police and firefighters to rescue the animals, and the outflow of support from the community.

Hours after the fire, a man wrote Safe Harbor a $25,000 check. A couple gave $10,000, and a foundation in Admirals Cove pledged $20,000.

“People are coming out of the woodwork, God bless them,” Roca said

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